Lions get 7 of 8 into quarterfinals

By Andy Elder

For the Mirror

ST. LOUIS — Through one day and two rounds of the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, not even the absence of heralded freshman 125-pounder Nick Suriano could keep Penn State from the top of the team standings.

The Nittany Lions’ eight-man contingent compiled a combined 15-1 record, 10 earning bonus points at the Scottrade Center. Penn State piled up 30.5 points and advanced seven into the quarterfinals, followed by Ohio State (26 and five quarterfinalists, Oklahoma State (25.5 and seven), Iowa (24.5 and six), and Missouri (20 and five).

Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174), Bo Nickal (184), Matt McCutcheon (197) and Nick Nevills (285) all advanced to today’s 11 a.m. quarterfinals. Jimmy Gulibon (141) went 1-1 and is still alive, facing a second-round consolation bout.

“The guys are wrestling well. They’re having a good time. A big day (Friday), obviously. Friday’s always big, then Saturday gets bigger. Every match gets bigger. We’re having fun and the guys are wrestling well,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson said.

“It’s going to get more difficult (Friday). The quarterfinals are one of the best rounds in the sport of wrestling.”

Retherford and Nolf posted a pair of technical falls, while Nickal produced a tech fall and pin.

“All three of them wrestled great. All three of them scored bonus points in the six matches they wrestled. They have big matches tomorrow. These points are very small compared to the points that are awarded the next two days,” Sanderson said.

Joseph, Hall and Nevills, in their first NCAA Championships appearances, each went 2-0. Joseph had a 5-1 decision and then a 12-4 major. Hall won 8-2 and then rolled up a 16-0 technicall fall in 2:20. Nevills had a pair of decisions.

“They’re wrestling well. They’ve had tough matches. Mark’s had a couple tough guys. Vincenzo had a really trickly first-round matchup with Stanford. The kid’s a tough matchup for him but he did a great job,” Sanderson said.

“(Hall) did a nice job. He did a nice job transitioning from turn to tilt. When you’re scoring four points it gets up there quick.”

McCutcheon started with a fall and then a hard-fought 6-3 decision.

“I feel great. I’ve just got to, again, take it one match at a time, focus on the next one. Injuries aren’t a factor. My body feels good so just keep going out there and scoring points,” McCutcheon said.

Gulibon jumpstarted Penn State’s day with an 18-3 technical fall in the opening round. Then, in the Round of 16, he was dropped into the consolation by Princeton No. 4 seed Matthew Kolodzik, 6-3.

The Nittany Lions’ quarterfinal matchups include:

n Retherford vs. Alex Kocer from South Dakota State.

n Nolf vs. unseeded B.J. Clagon from Rider, who went 3-0 and upset the No. 9 seed.

n Joseph vs. No. 6 seed Daniel Lewis of Missouri.

n Hall vs. No. 4 seed Zach Epperly of Virginia Tech.

n Nickal vs. No. 7 seed T.J. Dudley of Nebraska.

n McCutcheon vs. No. 4 seed Jared Haught of Virginia Tech.

n Nevills vs. No. 4 seed Jacob Kasper of Duke.

McCutcheon said the team is drawing some motivation from Suriano’s absence, trying to make up for his lost points.

“Yeah, I think our team’s fired up. We’re wrestling great and got a lot of guys wrestling well. Jimmy’s wrestling well, he’s just got to come back through for us now,” he said.

Sanderson, though, said he thought that motivation was limited.

“Yes and no. I think they want to win as a team. Having Suriano in there obviously helps us. They feel bad for Nick because he was a guy who wanted to do great here,” he said.

“You’ve got to be focused on your best. You can let the team motivate you a little bit, but for the most part you’re focused on your own hands, your own feet, your own brain. If you can add a little fire to that, so be it.”

Wrestling starts at 11 a.m. today with quarterfinal and second-round consolation bouts being contested simultaneously.